Maria O’Rourke

Location: Carlow, Ireland


After a career in teaching spanning thirty years, Maria O’Rourke is now a dedicated writer, having completed a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Limerick in Ireland.

She draws on her own experiences in personal, work and family life to bring out what is universal in each individual experience. Defying the Curse is her debut novel.

She has recently been awarded the Wild Atlantic Writing Award as well as being shortlisted for the Anthology Short Fiction Competition, the Farnham Flash Fiction Competition and the Liberties Press Humorous Short Story Competition. She has been published by The Blue Nib, The Ogham Stone and The Galway Review. Her story entitled ‘Mary Kelly’s Shop’ has featured on Sunday Miscellany on RTE Radio. Mother to three grown-up children, she lives in Carlow town with her husband, David.

Current project

My novel ‘Defying the Curse’ was published in March 2024.

There was a curse on the ‘Big House’. A local peasant foretold that the family would someday be ‘ruled by a cripple!’ So, when a son was born without any limbs, it seemed the premonition had come true. But nobody could have foretold what the boy would achieve and how his name would go down in history as one of the most remarkable Irishmen to ever live.

An amazing story of 19th century life, love and courage that reached across continents and social classes. This is an unforgettable novel of yearning, perseverance and gritty determination to both inspire and challenge. There is nothing the human spirit cannot overcome.

‘I have worked with Maria O’Rourke and greatly admire her writing and storytelling.’ Joseph O’ Connor

‘Maria O’Rourke’s sympathetic, insightful imagining of Arthur MacMurrough Kavanagh’s life is a tremendous achievement. This is an amazing story, beautifully told, of resilience and fortitude, and a searing portrait of a fracturing, transforming society.’ Donal Ryan

‘In writing this absorbing novel, Maria O’Rourke has brought to life the people, the landscape and another time in south Carlow, but she has also produced a work that lingers in the memory long after the last page has been read. Defying the Curse is a wonderful book.’ John MacKenna.

Available from and Amazon and

Writing sample

When Doctor Boxwell went to break the news to Thomas Kavanagh, he found him enjoying a cigar in the library. The afternoon sunlight reflected in the oval panes of glass fronting the walnut cabinets packed with leather-bound books. Holding out the cigar-box to the doctor he said: ‘I can hear the child has a fine set of lungs, but you’ve taken an age to come down. I trust Lady Harriet is quite well.’
‘Lady Harriet is very well indeed,’ the doctor answered, accepting a cigar. ‘But I do have some, ahm, news for you.’
‘Well of course you do! Spit it out my good man! Don’t tell me it’s another girl to bleed my fortune dry? Or is it another spare to the heir, so to speak?’ he asked, holding a cigar-box out to offer one to the doctor.
‘It’s a boy, Mr Kavanagh, but…’
‘Yes! Another boy! We’ll drink to that,’ he said, moving toward the sideboard. ‘But, what?’ He stopped and looked back at the doctor’s serious face.
‘He’s got some…well…unusual features, ahm, it’s difficult to describe.’
‘Oh dear. I see.’ Thomas resumed his seat in the Queen Anne armchair by the marble fireplace. ‘Go on, like a good fellow. Don’t beat about the bush.’
As Dr Boxwell described the infant, who was now cradled in his mother’s arms, Thomas Kavanagh’s face exhibited disgust, although his eyes welled up with tears. Clearing his throat, he said: ‘In that case will you find some good woman in the village to take care of him? I assume he won’t live long. They’ll want for nothing; you can assure them of that.’ And he lowered his head to his chest.
‘You might like to speak with Lady Harriet before making that decision, Mr Kavanagh.’
Startled, Thomas looked up sharply. ‘Well, Boxwell, what else can be done in this type of situation?’
‘Talk to Lady Harriet and I’ll call again in the morning. And, Mr Kavanagh, as to his general health, it would seem to be excellent.’
When the doctor left, Thomas Kavanagh slowly mounted the stone staircase and crossed the wooden floor to where Lady Harriet lay with the sleeping infant in her arms. Kissing her head, he found it hard to speak. There were tears in her delicate blue eyes as she rocked gently forward and back. Touching her hand, he said: ‘My poor dear Harriet. I’m so sorry this happened to you. It’s most unfair.’
With tears streaming down her cheeks now, she said: ‘Look at him, Thomas. Look at baby Arthur.’
‘I’d rather not, Harriet. You know there’s no point in getting fond of him. I’ve asked Doctor Boxwell to find a kindly lady in the village.’
‘You what?’ Harriet shrieked, making the baby stir and utter a sudden cry. ‘How dare you! No son of mine is being reared by anyone but me.’
‘Don’t be upsetting yourself, Harriet. You’ve had a hideous fright, and you need to rest. We’ll talk about it later.’
‘Thomas Kavanagh, you will look at your son right now, or you will spend your old age alone. I mean every word I say. Look at him, now.’
Slowly, Thomas’ eyes lowered to the infant who was wriggling and stirring in his mother’s arms. Plump cheeks and long eyelashes reminded him of his first-born son, Walter, who had tragically died. Slowly, he peeled back the blanket and gasped, covering his mouth.
‘Oh Harriet! How can we keep him? What will he ever do? The Kavanaghs are horsemen and hunters, farmers and politicians. This creature will be…none of those things.’
‘Just support me, Thomas, and I will see to the rest.’ She wrapped the blanket round him again. ‘I’ve decided something. I’m calling him Arthur after your ancestor, Art Kavanagh, one of the greatest Kavanaghs that ever lived. As a man of faith, you must surely know that God will give us the strength to make a fine man of him. Just agree that we keep him. Please.’
After a moment Thomas lifted her hand and, putting it to his lips said: ‘As you wish, Harriet, although I really don’t know how you’re going to do it. But I will support you, and may God be on your side.’

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